Clarke class keeps Cross on course for three-in-a-row
CROSSMAGLEN RGS 3-9 PEARSE OG 0-11
ARMAGH SFC FINAL
They were supposed to be vulnerable heading into the final, but Crossmaglen's championship pedigree came to the surface as they captured their 16th Armagh title in 17 years yesterday.
Injuries and emigration had overshadowed their progress this season and, in Pearse Og, they were facing the only team to have beaten them in Armagh since their golden era began in 1996.
However, goals in each half from classy Jamie Clarke, making his first club championship start since the All-Ireland final replay win over Garrycastle, helped Cross win their 40th county title.
Pearse Og came into the decider with a physical presence and a belief that they could repeat their shock win over Crossmaglen in the 2009 county final.
But that defeat in '09 stung Cross so much, that they haven't lost a championship match since, and with their injuries clearing up they will only grow stronger as they set out on a mission for a three-in-a-row of Ulster and All-Ireland trophies.
"That's one down, two to go," smiled captain David McKenna afterwards.
"That defeat to Pearse Og three years ago hurt us so much that we swore we'd never have that sick losing feeling again. Three years on, we still haven't experienced it and long may that continue."
Scoring a goal and a point inside the opening 53 seconds quashed any notion that Cross were there for the taking in the Morgan Athletic Grounds.
Johnny Hanratty scored a long-range point after 16 seconds and Clarke, who missed the earlier games after a summer stint in America, hit the net soon after with a near-post shot after he was set up with a lovely pass from Kyle Carragher.
Pearse Og could have wilted and felt sorry for themselves, but they quickly regrouped.
Sean Clarke and Armagh's 2002 All-Ireland winning veteran Kieran Hughes caused a good deal of damage, while county defenders Andy Mallon and Paul Duffy scored 0-3 between them during the first half.
There was a fair bit of needle in the game too, with some rash challenges going unpunished.
Pearse Og scored four points in a row to briefly hit the lead for the only time in the 29th minute -- at 1-3 to 0-7.
Crossmaglen's response was swift and decisive. A fisted goal from Tony Kernan, after an unselfish pass from Clarke, put the champions ahead by 2-3 to 0-7 at the end of the half.
Cross were able to keep at least this two-point cushion ahead throughout the second-half.
Conor Clarke, the younger brother of Ronan, impressed for Pearse Og but Crossmaglen had a lot of leaders on the field. Last year's winning captain Stephen Kernan, who missed the semi-final through injury, made a big contribution when he came on.
The game was still delicately poised until Clarke pounced for his second and Cross' third goal in the 53rd minute. A free-flowing move started by Oisin McConville out the field, ended with Clarke fisting home from close range.
Crossmaglen have clearly absorbed the loss of regulars Francis Hanratty and Danny O'Callaghan to Australia and will be more than ready for an Ulster club opener against the Donegal champions on November 11.
Scorers -- Crossmaglen: J Clarke 2-2, T Kernan 1-1, O McConville (1f), A Kernan (2f) 0-2 each, J Hanratty, S Kernan 0-1 each. Pearse Og: M Cullen 0-5 (4f), P Duffy 0-2, A Mallon, C Clarke, A Duffy, T Turley 0-1 each.
Crossmaglen Rangers -- P Hearty; P Hughes, J Morgan, P McKeown; A Kernan, B McKeown, M Aherne; J Hanratty, D McKenna; K Carragher, O McConville, T Kernan; J Clarke, A Cunningham, K Brennan. Subs: S Kernan for Brennan (30), S Finnegan for B McKeown (45), C Cumiskey for K Carragher (56), G Carragher for McConville (58), M Boyce for Hanratty (60).
Pearse Og -- C McKinney; M Carson, G Barton, G McCoy; P Duffy, A Mallon, D Parkinson; C Rafferty, JP Donnelly; A Duffy, C Clarke, S Clarke; T Turley, K Hughes, M Cullen. Subs: S Moore for Hughes (35), S Hughes for Carson (38), S Gribben for McCoy (59).
Ref -- S Murray.